Conversations with Erin

Since being in Ellensburg, Jonas and I have had the privilege of meeting a very intelligent, kind, and compassionate person that many of the locals are familiar with, Dr. Erin Zamzow. Erin provides holistic veterinary medicine to small animals and horses. Additionally, she has a part time house call practice, is a mom, and owner of an animal supplement business, Vivo Animals. Lately Jonas has been telling me he wants to be friends with pigs so we took a trip out to Erin's house for a visit this week. I talked to Erin a little bit about her animal nutritional supplements, eating plant-based, vegan issues, feminism, body positivity, and our plans and goals for what we want to do in the community with the Eburg Veg project.

Erin helping Jonas give Daisy a snack.

Erin helping Jonas give Daisy a snack.

Erin has graciously offered to share a bit of insight for our blog about some things she faced in veterinary school and how it helped shape her core choices over the long term.

"I remember the day so well.  It was early in my freshman year of veterinary school so probably late August or early September of 1986.  I remember all the newness of moving to Pullman, Washington, settling in with my fiancé  and roommate into our townhouse, finding out where the grocery stores and good coffee spots were, excited to embark on this 4 year marathon of learning to be an animal doctor. I was sitting with my class in a lecture hall at WSU veterinary school (one that no longer exists since the renovation of the veterinary school and teaching hospital) in a class called Animal Production which we soon dubbed “slaughter class”.

Here I was, a 22 year old idealistic veterinary student coming face to face with the reality of not just how animals were actually treated in food production but how they were regarded (or rather, disregarded) by the veterinary community in general.  I viewed the pictures on the big screen at the front of the room through often squinted eyes and listened to my professor matter of factly go over how many chickens could be crammed onto a ‘broiler floor” for maximum meat production with the least economic loss (sick and dead birds), as the practices of debeaking chickens, castrating young animals without anesthesia and cutting tails off baby pigs were calmly presented as needed for efficient and safe animal production. As the hour went on I became increasingly horrified.  I looked over to a few of my classmates to gauge their responses. There were approximately 3 of us that seemed to be sickened by the information we were being presented with. Perhaps more were bothered by it but not enough to speak out against it or consider changing their dietary choices. That first few days of class we were bombarded with information that was so at odds with my concept of what veterinarians were supposed to do, help animals.  The reality that THIS was part and parcel of veterinary education hit me like a brick wall and I knew early on I wanted nothing to do with it other than to try to stop it from happening.  I remember talking about it with a couple of my classmates who were already vegetarian and knowing without a doubt that I could no longer eat meat.  

Back at the townhouse I shared with my fiance’ and another veterinary student who was a friend from the pre vet studies at CWU, I proclaimed that I was going vegetarian right then and there.  After I explained why to my fiancé, he agreed to stop eating meat as well.  Learning about how animals were actually raised and killed for food was hard enough, the fact that very few people out of my class of 100 seemed to care at all added a whole other level of despair and frustration to these revelations.  

<There were other challenges in veterinary school but that is too much to go into here.  >

 "I hope to see access and socioeconomic barriers to a plant based diet come down so all can eat a more compassionate and planet friendly diet if they choose to."

For almost 30 years I was mostly vegetarian with some occasional “sustainable” seafood.  I was a classic example of cognitive dissonance- not wanting to face they hypocrisy of my concern for farm animals and my continued consumption of dairy and eggs.  A few years ago I limited my egg consumption to only ‘pet’ chicken eggs (from chickens that friends or neighbors kept with free run of the yard, a safe coop at night and who lived out their natural lives) and decreased my consumption of dairy.  My younger sister had shifted from vegetarian to a vegan diet about a year before I did.  I finally made the shift to a vegan diet and lifestyle January 1, 2015.  I did miss cheese and butter and ½ and ½ for my coffee at first but I adapted fairly quickly.   Any temptation to eat dairy in the first few months after removing it from my diet was quickly dispatched by the image of a mother cow and her calf being cruelly separated.   I don’t miss dairy at all now and I love being a creative and innovative plant based cook.  My husband and sons are not vegan but they eat most anything I cook and don’t bring any meat into the house.   Even my dogs are on vegan food now- something I have learned more about in the last year and realize is not a fit for all dogs.

I didn’t go vegan for health reasons, I did it completely for the animals but as learned more about animal agriculture as a contributor to climate change and social justice issues, I became more ‘evangelical’ about the vegan message.  I hope to see access and socioeconomic barriers to a plant based diet come down so all can eat a more compassionate and planet friendly diet if they choose to. We see so much injustice in this world and choosing a more compassionate diet is just one way I can mitigate some of the suffering of both human and non human animals.   Humans are at a place in our evolution where we have access to so much information and so much technology, we know better and it’s time to do better."

Daisy trying to decide whether or not to come in the house after Jonas opened the door.

Daisy trying to decide whether or not to come in the house after Jonas opened the door.

I think that hearing Erin's point of view is a powerful message to all of us. The veterinary practice is often thought of as a field for those who want to help animals but in reality nobody in our society is exempt from disassociating from trauma to survive. For a veterinarian that can mean choosing to regard an animal medically and not acknowledging the thoughts and feelings that accompany sentience, or choosing to work only on animals that we typically categorize as pets so that they can still go home and eat an animal who has the same intelligence as their own child without having to attach the experience to what they witness in their daily lives.

For the rest of us not DVM types, it's important to embrace roots. The journey that something takes to get to us is our responsibility even if it doesn't feel like it. Buying things locally is important to sustain our local economy and limit the resources used for the items we consume. Cutting down our meat and dairy consumption is also the responsible thing to do because it saves water, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and is a smarter use of plant foods to eat them directly without processing them through a farmed animal before consumption. And the roots of what something is - pig, cow, mother's milk and not "bacon," "beef," "cheese" are also important to acknowledge the sacrifices someone made for our pallets in the face of the human structures that intentionally enable and employ our cognitive dissonance for profit.

That's some pretty heavy stuff. Check out this picture of Jonas having a blast on the trampoline at Erin's house to give yourself a break before your head explodes. He's a super cute kid. He told me that Erin's pigs are his pigs too now, so we got to talk about sharing friends.

jonas trampoline.jpg

But seriously, even if it's just for your own health, your family needs to eat better. And if you haven't yet, watch this.

Special thanks to Dr. Erin Zamzow, DVM for her guest post this week!
Ellensburg Holistic Animal Wellness
Vivo Animals

All photos featured on this blog are copyrighted images. © January Bear Photography, 2018